The secret soul of Kazakhstan is a project by Italian photographer Simone Donati and journalist Emanuele Coen who recount their journey in Kazakhstan along the Silk Road and through the forests of Tekeli where the planet’s oldest apple tree Malus Sieversii still grows.
How did you get to know about the Tekeli forests?
I heard that the 27th edition of the Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens had been awarded by the Scientific Committee of the Benetton Foundation to the wild apple forests since for the significance they hold as a symbol of biodiversity.
Can you tell us about the Malus Sieversii? What is so special about the history of this apple tree?
This apple tree is named after Johann Sievers, the German botanist who first described it at the end of the 1700s. It was a discovery of great importance because up until then, apple trees had been considered plants which owed their existence exclusively to the work of man.
We can see from some of the photographs that you were accompanied during your journey. Who were your guides?
We were accompanied by forest rangers who showed us the wild apple trees around Tekeli, roughly a 4 hour journey away from Almaty.
What impressed you most during your travels?
Without a doubt the beautiful landscapes of Kazakhstan, rich in colour and nuances. I was also very “taken” by the sight of some of the interiors I visited, decorated in a most unusual and interesting style.
Did you get the chance to visit any other places in Kazakhstan?
Unfortunately not. This being a work commissioned by the Italian weekly magazine L’Espresso, we were totally focused on the story we had to write and the few days spent on site were not sufficient to fit in trips to other places.